Of football, flags and religious freedom

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I am a First Amendment guy. As a journalist, I valued the Amendment’s prohibiting Congress from abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. As a pastor, I value the Amendment’s prohibiting Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. However, what the Amendment actually says seems lost in discussions of football, flags, and freedom.

National Football League players are employees, whose freedom of speech to celebrate in the end zone or taunt their opponents on the field is already abridged—not by Congress, what the First Amendment prohibits, but—by their employers. If players violate the existing rule that they “should stand” during the National Anthem, they open themselves up to whatever punishment might be imposed. If the employees do not like it, they are free to find other employers, as they are free to protest alleged racial inequality and police brutality on their own time.

Similarly, one of my former restaurant employers told me that on the job I could not wear a “Jesus is the reason for the season” button at Christmastime, and another told me I could not wear Ash Wednesday ashes. If I had violated my employers’ rules, I would have opened myself up to whatever punishment might have been imposed. If I did not like it, I was free to find other employers, as I was free to so confess my faith on my own time.

However, if the government had told me I could not wear such a button or ashes, that would have been another matter, like the government’s telling Christians to do businesses with same-sex couples getting “married”. The church should not be concerned about freedom of expression in the NFL, although that has not stopped religious leaders from wrongly weighing in on the matter, oddly claiming the players were praying, and taking to their own knees repenting of racial injustice.

Rather, the church should be more concerned about our religious freedom, and that only after first preaching the pure Gospel of the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.

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